Explain Everything

I have been hunting for a while for something that would replace smartboard functionality on an iPad. Display mirroring to an AirPlay receiving device (such as an Apple TV or a Mac with Reflection running) is half the battle, but the other is finding an app worth its salt.

There are a few possibilities for free, but they have their shortcomings. Such as:

  • Educreations. Simple, allows drawing and writing, well written. Unfortunately you cannot save and then edit a slideshow – it only lets you record one and play it back. Which essentially renders it useless for advance planning!
  • Doceri. There’s a free and a paid version and it seems nice. The display mirroring mode is cool too, allowing the iPad user to see the controls but for them not to show on the big screen. The handwriting tools are particularly effective. However, it doesn’t let you enter text.
  • ShowMe Interactive Whiteboard. Not bad but doesn’t allow you to enter text.

SMART have now released an iPad version of their Notebook software (for the tidy sum of £4.99) but it’s pretty much useless on several accounts. Firstly, when mirroring the app, the iPad still turns off the screen after 2 minutes, which is not helpful. Secondly, the internal file system is bust as whenever you import a new notebook file it just opens the most recent file instead. Oh, and then pen functionality sometimes doesn’t work too.

So, I was very pleased when I discovered Explain Everything. It can be a little clunky to use, but has the following plus points:

  • Gazillion ways of getting files in and out of the app (Dropbox, Evernote, WebDAV etc)
  • Allows you to type text
  • Robust onscreen writing
  • Prevents the screen turning off when in use
  • Easy manipulation of anything onscreen
  • Can record audio as well as an animation of all your interactions

Generally good stuff. And a bargain at £1.99!

Erasing SMART Ink

One of the features of Smart Notebook 11, the latest version of the software used to run Smartboards, is a featured called ‘SMART Ink’.  It’s an evolution of the previous functionality that allowed you to write on any window using the Smartboard pens. Previous versions just put a big picture frame over to allow you to write, which was great for full-screen applications but not so good for windows that move around.  To get around this problem, SMART released SMART Ink, which ties the writing to a specific window, which can then be moved around the screen.  Which is all great in theory.

However, in practice it results in lots of ugly green boxes sitting in the title bar of every single window you have open, and even every little dialogue box as well.  And then when you move the window around, it doesn’t gracefully move with it but rather jitters around, destroying all the hard work Apple engineers have done in giving silky-smooth-graphic-card-accelerated windowing.

But not only that, it also seems to generally slow the Mac down, as acknowledged here and here by SMART. Not very smart.

Several people have suggested ways to remove the software, which I have roughly followed.  It basically involves removing the ‘SMART Ink’ login item from System Preferences > Users & Groups > Login Items and then killing the process using Activity Monitor.  It’s a bit of a faff to go computer to computer, but seems to have had a good impact on speed.

SMART Notebook 11

Whilst I am not the greatest fan of Smartboards, they certainly do have good customer service! After sending an email to them in Canada, asking of OSX 10.7 Lion would ever really be supported, they emailed me back to inform me of a soon-to-arrive Notebook 11 software. Amongst its other features, it has full Lion support (yay!). Hopefully they will still support 500 series Smartboards too, but that may just be wishful thinking on my part.

The great IWB swindle

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the Interactive Whiteboard (IWB – or Stupidboard as I affectionately call them). They are disproportionately expensive (£1000…for a giant trackpad?), faffy to install, fiddly to set up and unreliable to use. They offer the chance of ‘interactivity’ to children, but more often than not they’re just used by the teacher. Admittedly you can write on them (if they’re aligned) but you can write on a normal whiteboard too! The interface really isn’t design for touch either, with the normal-sized touch targets requiring pixel-perfect precision that only a mouse can offer.

I have to acknowledge that I do prefer having an IWB instead of just using an OHP and acetates, as I did last year with my music teaching. But the only handy part is being able to display lyrics on a big screen and play different tracks easily. The ‘interactive’ part is so unreliable that I often resort to using the mouse instead.

So what is the solution then? Some form of large display linked up to a computer is handy, but that could just be a flat-screen tv or just a data projector. I am also very interested in the possibilities of screen-mirroring from an iPad using an Apple TV box. Very much cheaper too…who’d have thought it?